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Work-Life Balance: Your Right to Love Your Life

The fact that there was no resting room in the courthouse, doesn't necessarily mean that the U.S. undervalues sleep, it just means sleep and napping didn't belong in that specific context, or at least not in a designated area.
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Work-life balance signpost
Work-life balance signpost

"Excuse me" I said to the guard inside the courthouse behind the counter, are there any resting rooms inside this courthouse? I'm on jury duty and am feeling a bit tired, is there any place during lunch hour where I could lie down? He looked at me and said "restrooms, sure they are over there " and pointed towards the stairs behind me. I said, oh no I don't mean restrooms, I meant "resting rooms" as I put my hands under my cheek and leaned to the side, making my point of wanting to get a quick shut eye experience.

Now, realizing I probably sounded silly, I told him that where I am from in northern Europe there are, at universities and libraries for example, "resting rooms" for those needing to take a quick nap. He moved back, opened his eyes wider in surprise and laughed out his reply "well then, maybe I should move to Europe!"

We have all heard the term work-life balance, and I am sure we can all relate to feeling that we just don't have enough time in a day to do the things we need to do. Sometimes this makes us very tired, as in the case when I wanted to take a nap at the courthouse.

Having read up on this topic for this post I mainly see the "balancing act" theme between life and work and the "who is responsible" theme (you or the company). All great, and I'd like to offer also, that you have the undeniable right to love your life. It is not just about having the right to a life (see the declaration of the Human Rights) but rather it is about thriving. There is a difference between doing something, going through the motions like a zombie and creating something, which drives and motivates us. If you don't work - as in love your life, nothing works, including companies.

Thinking of having a right to love your life shifts the conversation a tad, adds another flavor more towards the idea of solidarity to make sure those rights happen for each other. A right lives in the realm of seriousness, ironically for this post many of concepts considered "rights" are protected in a court of law. A right is not up for negotiation, it is not a sometimes and someday kind of phenomenon and it is not solely up to the individual alone to "make it happen". Dressing work-life balance in this way we push our aspirations up a level to think about what can be created to have people (and companies) thrive.

Being Swedish-American, having lived most of my life in Sweden and seven year working in LA and New York I have come to understand different shades of what makes life work from two different cultural ways of talking about things. It is the age-old conversation of be, do, have and how we balance these for a gratisfactory experience. In today's world of business a creative mindset is the new "it" thing to possess, and cultures can assist in opening up to new ways of seeing something we look at every day. I understand culture can be a sensitive topic, but it is not the notion of cultures that create sensitivity in itself, it is our tendency to categorize and places one thing above the other. Perfectly fine when your shopping for a new sweater but not functional when understanding why people do what they do.

Cultures are in essence interpretations on much of the same set of universal values, distinguishable but always changing habits (Confucius). This becomes clear when some cultures have invented words for states, feelings and the world out there, whereas others have not. "Resting rooms" is apparently not a ubiquitous concept in the American English language and before I explained it the officer misheard me. He didn't hear what he hadn't heard before. Language matters, because language is the key with which we unlock how to understand our world and it affects processes, systems and how things work in a society. The fact that there was no resting room in the courthouse, doesn't necessarily mean that the U.S. undervalues sleep, it just means sleep and napping didn't belong in that specific context, or at least not in a designated area.

The conversation that people matter is not new, the school of Human Resources go back some time, but seeing what the world looks like (economic crashes, layoffs, income inequality) it is clearly not considered the most important thing. Profit is usually the most important thing. Boxall and Purcell (2011) in their book Strategy and Human Resource Management conclude that human capital can contain the most competitively valuable sources which sets a company apart, create creative companies and bring a vantage point in the market place. When access to resources alone cannot explain successes, something else is reasonably at play, could the x-factor be people? Yet, Piketty (2013) chooses to exclude human capital from the asset column in his book Capital in the Twenty-First Century, as an individual's labor power, skills, training and abilities cannot be owned or traded on a market detached from the person they came from. Would you agree with that idea? There still is this uncertainty whether taking care of people matters in orders of magnitude, yet we all know in our hearts that if we put people first, before anything, all the time and always - everything else will follow. Of course at the heart of that conversation is that self care comes first, naps and all.